ARLINGTON, Texas — Ohio State was pushed almost to the brink Saturday night.
The No. 4 Buckeyes trailed by eight points in the third quarter to a TCU team that looked as fast as Ohio State. But instead of wilting, the Buckeyes counter-punched with three touchdowns in just over 4 minutes and escaped AT&T Stadium with a 40-28 victory.
A crowd of 64,362, predominantly Buckeye fans despite TCU being only 18 miles away, watched Ohio State win for the third time in as many games at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
The stakes weren’t as high as in the previous games – the College Football Playoff championship win over Oregon four years ago or even last year’s Cotton Bowl win over Southern California – but this was a statement game for the Buckeyes on a day when many other Big Ten teams flopped.
It was the final game Ohio State will play with Ryan Day as acting coach. Urban Meyer was back in Columbus serving the last of his three-game suspension. After cakewalks against overmatched Oregon State and Rutgers, No. 15 TCU was expected to be the Buckeyes’ first test.
“We knew there would be ebbs and flows in a game like this,” Day said. “We knew there’d be times we’d hit adversity.”
That they did. An early 10-0 lead evaporated and TCU led 21-13 in the third quarter after a 16-yard touchdown run by Darius Anderson. With All-American defensive end Nick Bosa, whose strip-sack resulted in Ohio State’s first touchdown, out with an injury, it looked like this just might not be the Buckeyes’ night.
But the game turned in a flash. Parris Campbell scored on a 63-yard screen pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr., though the two-point conversion that would have tied the score failed. On TCU’s next possession, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones intercepted a shovel pass by Shawn Robinson and returned it 28 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
After a Buckeyes defensive stop, Ohio State took over at the TCU 25 when Horned Frogs punter Adam Nunez dropped the snap and Shaun Wade deflected his rushed kick. Two plays later, Haskins threw to K.J. Hill for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 33-21.
After TCU (2-1) scored a quick touchdown, the Buckeyes answered with a 75-yard drive capped by Haskins’ first rushing touchdown.
Despite facing a significant pass rush for the first time this year, Haskins finished 24 of 38 for 344 yards.
“They’re a really great defense,” Haskins said, “but I go against the best defense in the country in practice.”
TCU was aware of Ohio State’s ferocious pass rush and game-planned accordingly, relying on quick, short passes and misdirection mixed in with the occasional deep throw. Unlike Ohio State’s first two overmatched opponents, the Horned Frogs were good enough to execute the plays consistently and took advantage of some Buckeye gaffes in the run game.
Until Campbell’s touchdown, the Buckeyes had trouble breaking long plays. They’d had only one longer than 20 yards before that.
>> See 100 photos from Ohio State's win over TCU
The first half started well for the Buckeyes, but even then, they missed scoring opportunities. On the game’s opening possession, Austin Mack made a terrific catch for a 48-yard completion to the TCU 3. Ohio State couldn’t punch it in and had to settle for a field goal by Sean Nuernberger.
After TCU missed a 31-yard field goal attempt on its opening possession after a holding call nullified a touchdown, the Horned Frogs started from their 7 on their next one. Bosa beat Anthony McKinney and stripped the ball from Robinson. Davon Hamilton recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
But the Buckeyes sputtered after that. TCU drove 84 yards, aided by a shaky third-down pass-interference penalty on cornerback Damon Arnette, for a touchdown to make it 10-7.
The Horned Frogs took the lead on a 93-yard touchdown run by Anderson, who was barely touched as he went around left end. It was both the longest run in TCU history and the longest play ever surrendered by Ohio State.
Trailing for the first time this season, the Buckeyes had a chance to regain the lead on their last two drives. They reached the TCU 13 before settling for a field goal with 5 1/2 minutes left before halftime. Ohio State then drove from its 10 to the TCU 21 in the final seconds of the second quarter. But Nuernberger’s 38-yard field goal attempt was wide left to keep it 14-13.
“That’s probably the worst half of football we’ve played this season,” Jones said.
It would get worse before it got better, but not for long.